Jury convicts killer of late-term abortion provider

After deliberating for less than an hour, a Kansas jury found anti-abortion fanatic Scott Roeder guilty of first degree murder for shooting Dr. George Tiller in church last May. Roeder admitted killing Tiller and will be sentenced in March. Prosecutors are seeking a 50-year sentence with no possibility for parole. If Roeder is sentenced to life in prison, he could be eligible for parole in 25 years. During the trial,

[Sedgwick County District Judge Warren] Wilbert had barred Roeder from using a so-called necessity defense, aiming for an acquittal by arguing that the killing was necessary to prevent a greater harm – killing babies. But the judge allowed Roeder to present evidence that he sincerely believed his actions were justified to save unborn children – a defense that could have led to a conviction on the lesser offense of voluntary manslaughter.

On Thursday afternoon, however, Wilbert ruled that he would not give jurors the option of considering a voluntary manslaughter conviction, because such a defense requires that a person must be stopping the imminent use of unlawful force.

Unfortunately, Roeder succeeded in shutting down Tiller’s clinic, one of very few facilities where women could receive late-term abortions. Contrary to the propaganda you may have heard from the anti-choice movement, women seeking care from Dr. Tiller didn’t just casually decide during the second or third trimester that they didn’t feel like having children.

Kansas state law allows abortions on viable fetuses after the 21st week only if carrying the pregnancy to term would endanger the mother’s life or cause a “substantial and irreversible impairment” of a major bodily function. Courts have interpreted a “major bodily function” to include mental health.

Amanda Marcotte wrote before Tiller was murdered,

The argument for attacking Tiller is that he performs late term abortions, which are supposedly worse than early term ones, even though anti-choicers claim that a fertilized egg is the same thing as a 5-year-old child, so that shows that their targeting of late term providers is cynical politicking on its face.  But if you actually bother to look at why women get late term abortions, the targeting Dr. Tiller becomes even more horrifying.  Generally speaking, you’re talking about women who really wanted to have a baby, but who can’t have this one, because something is wrong with her health or that of the fetus.  Because of the sensitive nature of the situation, Dr. Tiller’s office offers a great deal of counseling services to their patients, who are often suffering trauma because of what’s happening to them.  In addition to counseling, there are baptism and funerary services, as well as photographing and footprinting, for people who want to say goodbye to the baby that they expected to have but couldn’t.  The levels of hate projected at Dr. Tiller are directly proportional to the levels of care he shows for women during this rough period of their lives.

Although Roeder will spend a long time in prison, it’s hard to feel justice has been served when he accomplished his goal.

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Year in review: national politics in 2009 (part 1)

It took me a week longer than I anticipated, but I finally finished compiling links to Bleeding Heartland’s coverage from last year. This post and part 2, coming later today, include stories on national politics, mostly relating to Congress and Barack Obama’s administration. Diaries reviewing Iowa politics in 2009 will come soon.

One thing struck me while compiling this post: on all of the House bills I covered here during 2009, Democrats Leonard Boswell, Bruce Braley and Dave Loebsack voted the same way. That was a big change from 2007 and 2008, when Blue Dog Boswell voted with Republicans and against the majority of the Democratic caucus on many key bills.

No federal policy issue inspired more posts last year than health care reform. Rereading my earlier, guardedly hopeful pieces was depressing in light of the mess the health care reform bill has become. I was never optimistic about getting a strong public health insurance option through Congress, but I thought we had a chance to pass a very good bill. If I had anticipated the magnitude of the Democratic sellout on so many aspects of reform in addition to the public option, I wouldn’t have spent so many hours writing about this issue. I can’t say I wasn’t warned (and warned), though.

Links to stories from January through June 2009 are after the jump. Any thoughts about last year’s political events are welcome in this thread.

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Late-term abortion provider murdered in church

An assailant shot and killed Dr. George Tiller at a church in Wichita, Kansas this morning. Tiller has long been demonized by the anti-choice movement because he performs late-term abortions. He was shot in 1993 and has faced numerous threats, and his clinic has been bombed and vandalized. The Wichita Eagle has background here and is updating the story. (Note: police arrested a 51-year-old male suspect about three hours after the shooting.)

Daily Kos user wiscmass discusses other violent attacks against abortion providers here. As wiscmass notes, every murder or assault is a deterrent to medical professionals considering whether to provide abortion services. By intimidating doctors, anti-choice activists can restrict access to abortion where legal and political methods have failed. I would add that even non-violent methods of intimidation can be effective. For instance, the Sioux City medical community has made clear hospital privileges will be denied to any local doctor who performs abortions at Planned Parenthood of Greater Iowa’s clinic there.

Tiller was not only serving women in Kansas. Many states, including Iowa, lack any clinic where women with a compelling medical reason can get a late-term abortion. (Contrary to propaganda you may have heard, healthy women with healthy pregnancies can’t just walk into Tiller’s clinic and get an abortion in the third trimester.) I have no idea where these women will go now.

Incidentally, Tiller’s donations to Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius and her political action committee prompted 31 Senate Republicans to vote against confirming Sebelius as Health and Human Services secretary in April.

Cecile Richards, leader of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, told a story about Sebelius during a recent speech at Planned Parenthood of Greater Iowa’s 75th anniversary celebration. Richards recalled a noisy group of protesters with graphic signs outside a Planned Parenthood event in Kansas. Everyone who attended the event, including then-Governor Sebelius, had to walk through the group of protesters. During her speech that night, Sebelius said she was glad everyone had to face those protesters, because it gave them a sense of what women in Kansas go through every day just trying to access reproductive health care.

Unfortunately, Tiller’s murder reminds us that standing up for reproductive rights in this country sometimes means putting your life in danger. I echo wiscmass in urging pro-choice Americans to support the organizations that are on the front lines in this battle.

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